The link between energy bills and fossil fuels

UK gas prices have breached record levels in recent years, with energy bills rocketing and worrying official predictions that they could stay high for years to come.

One response to these soaring costs, and calls for greater energy security, has been to double down support for greater exploration and production of oil and gas in the North Sea or to look to hydrogen technology to heat our homes.

However, analysis of the last 13 years of new North Sea oil & gas licenses show that these fields produced just 16 days worth of gas, half of which was sent to the Netherlands.  The UK Government’s own figures predict any new licenses will only provide a year’s worth of gas for domestic use.

Furthermore, a former senior minister admitted that ‘additional UK production won’t materially affect the wholesale market price’ for gas.

Issuing more licences to drill doesn’t change the geology of the North Sea or speed up the process for extracting this gas. In fact, the new Rosebank development will only go-ahead with tax breaks for the Norwegian developers.

The same arguments apply to fracking which not only lacks public support, but would also not deliver cheaper prices.

So whilst it may seem common sense to extract more in the face of growing costs, the reality is that greater extraction of oil and gas in the North Sea will have a minimal impact in helping families keep warm this winter – it is a false solution to the cost of living crisis faced by millions across the UK.

Due to the physical limits of the North Sea basin, the UK will be forced to increase gas imports regardless of any new production, until it implements policies to reduce gas demand through reducing energy waste.

Plans to block new oil and gas fields being developed in the North Sea are backed by over 100 organisations including trade unions and environmental groups.

Homegrown solar, onshore and offshore wind energy are now around nine times cheaper than gas.

The more renewable energy that is on the grid and the quicker more energy efficiency measures are implemented, the faster bills will come down and the country will be better protected against future energy shocks.

Using already available technology, research indicates countries can increase electricity use for heating processes from roughly 7% to 90% in the case of buildings. Further, gas imports can be reduced by 2.6% for every additional 1% in energy savings.

Despite this, there continues to be more support for North Sea expansion among politicians. Tessa Khan, from End Fuel Poverty Coalition members Uplift, explains why this is a problem:

New North Sea oil and gas will do nothing to solve the crisis we face, which is one of affordability. Ministers have publicly conceded that new domestic production will not lower bills.

Plus, the geology of the basin means that most of what’s left is oil, which we largely export, and it takes on average 28 years to go from licensing a field to production, if they produce anything at all.

Around 200 licences have been issued to companies since 2014 but barely a handful of these are producing any oil and gas today.

The Greenpeace chief UK scientist, Dr Doug Parr, agrees:

Unleashing a North Sea drilling frenzy isn’t a plan to help bill payers but a gift to the fossil fuel giants already making billions from this crisis.

New oil and gas could take a quarter of a century to pump out, will be eventually sold at global prices, and have no real impact on energy bills yet still fuel the climate crisis.